Subscribe to E-Bulletin Donate to CEGA

Coordinating Seed Exchange to Overcome Network Failures

Development Challenge

Farmers in developing countries often face extreme weather, which can lead to crop failures, falling income, and food insecurity. In response, scientists have developed several varieties of stress-tolerant seeds to help farmers cope with weather shocks. A previous study by the research team indicates that adoption rates are high when seeds are available. However, the current farmer-to-farmer channels for the circulation of seeds have not led to successful diffusion and an adoption gap remains. More research is necessary to determine how to increase farmers’ access to stress-tolerant seeds.


In Orissa, India, Swarna-Sub1 – a flood-tolerant rice variety – has successfully avoided yields losses under flooding and induced farmers to improve their farm management practices. It has been widely accepted when given out freely as minikits. However it fails to subsequently diffuse massively in the farm community through informal farmer-to-farmer networks. Using a randomized control trial approach, researchers found that only 7 percent of farmers obtained seeds when relying on informal networks. By contrast, forty percent of farmers purchased seeds through the market organized as seed company sales agents going door-to-door, suggesting that a more coordinated approach to seed exchange could help reduce the adoption gap. 

Evaluation Strategy

Researchers will test whether a local NGO-organized seed exchange date for Swarna-Sub1 seeds increases diffusion. Five randomly selected farmers in 80 villages in flood-prone areas of Orissa will receive a five kilogram mini-kit to grow Swarna-Sub1. Each mini-kit yields on average 250 kilograms of seed, which can be sold or exchanged.

In 40 treatment villages, farmers that received the mini-kits will be brought together and told that they can likely sell them to other farmers at prices higher than output prices. The local NGO will then work with the original cultivators to coordinate a seed exchange event. Potential buyers will be notified via SMS messages and village announcements of cultivation of Swarna-Sub1 in their community and of the seed-exchange date.

In 40 comparison villages, SMS messages will be sent out that other farmers in their community are cultivating Swarna-Sub1. No seed exchange event will be organized. The purpose is to generate information about seed availability but distribution and exchange will only occur through informal channels.

Researchers will then compare take-up levels of Swarna-Sub1 between the two groups of villages. Additionally, researchers will observe whether increasing the salience of potential profits from seed exchange among treatment group farmers may lead to the emergence of local agro-dealers which may increase Swarna-Sub1 adoption rates over time. 

Results and Policy Implications

Study ongoing, results forthcoming. This research is part of the PhD dissertation of Kyle Emerick in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley.